Words & Photography: Heather Schmidt, travel 3Sixty° travelsmith
Cambodia has long been on my dream travel list for some time, and the affordable airfare made it too good to pass up. I just got back from five days in Phnom Penh and had a fantastic time. Here’s what I learned.
1. Don’t forget your visa!
You can pay for your visa (if you need one) in the airport upon arrival or in advance online. It’s cheaper to get one at the airport, but the lines can be long on occasion, which makes the online purchase a safe bet.
2. SIM cards add a measure of safety to solo travel
When travelling alone, I always try to get a SIM card. Getting lost with friends and family on trips can be an exciting adventure, but I like the added security of having help and directions at hand as a backup, especially when I’m on my own. Thankfully, there are many affordable SIM card options at Phnom Penh International Airport.
3. Be prepared for the heat when hitting up cultural sites
It’s hot in Cambodia year round! Be sure to bring a water bottle and folding fan. You will use both – a lot! That also means ladies should pack a light top and sarong or wrap for the temples and palaces. You have to dress modestly which is a sweaty, hot request when it’s pushing 38 degrees or more! Cool off at the top floor of the Foreign Correspondents Club has a great breeze and views of the river.
4. Phnom Penh traffic is treacherous.
Be sure to check BOTH ways before crossing the street. The traffic is crazy and road rules appear non-existent. Also do not expect paved roads all the way – most are packed dirt and the surfaces uneven. Chickens and children dart into the roads, often without notice. Vehicles will not stop for you so hold your breath and go – drivers will swerve to avoid you!
5. The second best way to see the city – tuktuks
While I spent the majority of my time on foot, on late nights I took a tuktuk back to my guesthouse as street lighting isn’t commonplace. With the hazards of the uneven street surfaces, vehicles without lights and general lack of signage, I forked over the modest fee without hesitation. Get ready with your bartering skills.
6.The best shopping deals are found in the markets.
Much like its neighbouring countries, Cambodia is famous for its markets. The Phnom Penh Night Market and Central Market were standouts.
The night market is a bustling spot for dates and family outings. The Central Market is full of the usual stuff but the building itself is the star.
7. ‘Greenbacks’ rule.
I was surprised to learn that the US Dollar is the currency of choice. ATMs even issue dollars. For large purchases (over USD5), expect to use greenbacks. Singles came in handy when negotiating at markets and with tuk tuks. Be mindful of scammers who try to get you to change your money into large sums of Cambodian riels.
8. There is no better way to experience a new city than through its food.
The local Khmer food is fantastic! I had one of the best traditional Khmer meals at Romdeng, which joins sister restaurant Friends, as part of the TREE Alliance of training schools for at-risk youth. A wonderful meal benefitting a noble cause.
9. A sobering side trip to Tuol Sleng Prison is a must.
You have to mentally prepare for your visit to Tuol Sleng. At times, it was too overwhelming and breaks in the peaceful garden were required. The horrors that the walls were witness to are such a contrast to the beauty of the country and smiles of the Cambodian people.
10. Massage culture is alive and well in Cambodia.
There are some excellent, affordable spas in Phnom Penh. Definitely take the time to indulge in foot or body massages. I had two fantastic ones at Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel and Bodia Spa. Also a fantastic break from the heat!
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Phnom Penh from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. For flight schedules and fares, visit airasia.com.
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